One of the most important parts of a musicians’ mindset is confidence. If you aren’t constantly terrified of your instrument, there is an ease-of-mind that starts to set in. When your head isn’t completely messing with you as much, your playing will start to flow. Put it this way: Do you even think at all when you walk or ride a bike? Probably not. It is effortless, and playing your instrument, hopefully one day, will be somewhere in this same frame-of-mind as walking and chewing gum.
But remember, there is always someone better than you (unless your are Prince!). One should never let the confidence that comes with hard work get in the way of being humbled by either playing with other killer players, or learning riffs and beats off of records from some of the many greats who are greats from yore … or even contemporaries.
A guy like me took influences from growing up around great ‘70s records, morphed those influences into my own approach and “style,” and then kind of just stuck with that one thing. Hell, it worked for me, so why even try to challenge myself to stuff that may not be in my wheelhouse? I got this thing, man! Ah, but at around 30 years of age, I realized that I wasn’t experiencing any growth in my playing. I was relying on the same old tricks, same old approach. It was time for a challenge if I wanted to get better.
I never used to learn other artists’ songs. Well, scratch that actually. My old band would sometimes cover other bands’ songs … but certainly not in a note-for-note way. We would do our own interpretations and versions of said songs. Just sort of winging it at best.
In my 30s, I started to playing less bass and more guitar. Guitar was something I always did, and wrote most all of the songs I was part of, on the 6-string. But I never really delved into it fully. At some point in my early 30s, I saw Brian Setzer play, and I was fully inspired. I got some Beatles song books and learned all kinds of chords. I played guitar all of the time, and got to play with some other really good guitar players who would show me stuff. I saw music again in a fresh and energetic light. Note: Being in a band with Slash as your guitar player can make guitar playing seem like an unattainable mastery. Dude is just so damn good and gifted. But he DOES practice all of the time, and constantly challenges himself.
We may all think as players that we have our own clear forte. Whether it is the fact that maybe you can retain more information songwise than some of your peers, or maybe you know more music theory, or that you can just simply shred better than most, or are a dynamic live performer. But I think growth as an actual player is needed to truly keep the spark — and hence your personal love affair with music — alive and flourishing.
The reason I write this now is that all this week I’ve been learning a bunch of songs from Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and Mott the Hoople on the bass. I’ve really gotten back into the bass in the past bunch of years and even started taking some lessons. If you want to stay humble when you just think that you are “all that” on the bass, just try playing some John Paul Jones or Deep Purple. Holy shit. Holy, holy shit. I am back to square one apparently … but completely inspired. I mean, what if I can master these lines?! I will be the greatest! (These are those crazy day-dream images that play through my twisted and mis-informed mind.)
Alright. Enough about me. Just my two cents. A lot of people have asked me music questions, and here is one little stab into informing you all of just a thing or two that I have culled along the way. Perhaps there will be more in a later column. Write with any tips of your own.